Americans urge more targeted approach, end to massive ground campaign


Tel Aviv: The head of the CIA has flown to Europe for talks with Israeli and Qatari officials, sounding out the potential for a deal on a new ceasefire and the release of hostages in Gaza, as the US defence secretary spoke to Israeli military leaders about scaling back major combat operations against Hamas.

Still, there was no sign that a shift in the war was imminent after more than two months of devastating bombardment and fighting. Fierce battles raged in northern Gaza, where residents said rescue workers were searching for the dead and the living under buildings flattened by Israeli strikes.

An Israeli artillery unit fires into the Gaza Strip.Credit: Getty

Pressure is growing, as France, the UK and Germany – some of Israel’s closest allies – joined global calls for a ceasefire over the weekend. Israeli protesters have demanded the government relaunch talks with Hamas on releasing more hostages after three were mistakenly killed by Israeli troops while waving a white flag.

US officials have repeatedly expressed concern about the large number of civilian deaths in Gaza. But after talks with Israeli officials Monday, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “This is Israel’s operation. I’m not here to dictate timelines or terms.” The US has vetoed calls for a ceasefire at the UN and has rushed munitions to Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that Israel will keep fighting until it ends Hamas rule in Gaza, crushes its formidable military capabilities and frees hostages still held in Gaza since the deadly October 7 attack inside Israel that ignited the war. In the unprecedented attack, militants killed some 1200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted about 240 men, women and children.

The 10-week-old war has killed more than 19,000 Palestinians and demolished much of the north into a moonscape. Some 1.9 million Palestinians – nearly 85 per cent of Gaza’s population – have fled their homes, with most packing into UN-run shelters and tent camps in the southern part of the besieged territory.

In an apparent sign that talks on a hostage deal were growing more serious, CIA Director William Burns met in Warsaw with the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency and the prime minister of Qatar, a US official said.

It was the first known meeting of the three since the end of a weeklong ceasefire in late November, during which some 100 hostages – including a number of foreign nationals – were freed in exchange for the release of around 240 Palestinian s held in Israeli prisons.

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